Blumenthal to Pursue Race Amid Vietnam Questions

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal will stay in the race for U.S. Senate, a Democratic Party spokeswoman said, amid a controversy over a New York Times report that he misrepresented his military service record during the Vietnam War.

“He is 100 percent staying in the race,” said Kate Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Democratic Party. “It’s not even a question.”

Blumenthal, 64, scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference today at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in West Hartford, Connecticut. The Times reported that Blumenthal claimed in public appearances to have served in Vietnam though he obtained deferments and then served in a Marine Corps reserve unit stationed in the U.S.

Blumenthal’s campaign biography mentions his service in the reserves without referring to Vietnam.

One of his Republican opponents, former Representative Rob Simmons, who did serve in Vietnam as an Army intelligence officer, said at a press conference today that Blumenthal should apologize “to those whose heroism he has undeservedly capitalized on for his personal political purposes.”

Another Republican primary opponent, Linda McMahon, the former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, posted an article on her campaign website claiming credit for leaking the story to the Times. She later removed the article.

Blumenthal, who entered the race after Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd announced his retirement, was favored to win the November election by the three Washington-based publications that rate congressional contests: Congressional Quarterly, the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report.

Military Service

Democratic consultant Glenn Totten said misrepresenting his military service could cripple Blumenthal’s campaign.

“It could be fatal if Blumenthal’s opponent is able to use that as a wedge to open a real question of character,” said Totten, who works on congressional races. “It’s one thing to say you did more in Vietnam than you actually did. It’s another to say you served there when in fact you went directly out of your way to avoid service.”

“My intention was to be always clear and straightforward about what my service was,” Blumenthal said in an interview with Hearst Connecticut newspapers. “I’ve always said that I’ve served in the Marine Corps Reserve during the Vietnam era. If I said anything otherwise on very rare occasions, I may have misspoken.”

A ‘Smear’ Attack

Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said it was “no surprise Republicans would want to smear Dick Blumenthal.”

Blumenthal led McMahon and Simmons by more than 30 points each in a March poll by Quinnipiac University of Hamden, Connecticut.

“The one thing about it is it’s May and the election isn’t until November,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. “If it had happened in October, good Lord.”

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the controversy over Blumenthal’s military service “is quite a blow to his political candidacy” and “makes the prospects better” for Republicans to win the seat.

Five Deferments

The Times, citing records, reported that Blumenthal got at least five military deferments from 1965-70 and took steps to avoid going to war. In 1970, he took a post in a Marine Reserve Washington unit that worked on local projects, the newspaper said.

Blumenthal built a career pursuing financial crime. Last month, he sued Westport National Bank for allegedly aiding Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, seeking $16.2 million for defrauded investors. He investigated insurer American International Group Inc. for possible misuse of taxpayer bailout funds and persuaded the company to turn over information on executives who received bonuses after the bailout.

In 2008, he sued Countrywide Financial Corp., the mortgage company bought by Bank of America Corp., for allegedly duping borrowers into taking loans they couldn’t afford.

Blumenthal is helped by his big lead in the polls in a Democratic state, said John C. Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

“It seems as if he did not directly lie in writing, but in his live speeches he got carried away,” he said.

Still, Fortier said, “if there are particularly egregious videos, they are campaign ad fodder for candidates to go viral on the web, both of which could be more damaging than the reports we read about in the Times.”

----With assistance from James Rowley in New York and Karen Freifeld in New York. Editors: Jim Rubin, Laurie Asseo.

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